While it is all change for Arsenal and Chelsea – in terms of their managers and therefore playing personnel – for the Reds of Merseyside, under the tutelage of the enigmatic Jurgen Klopp, it’s very much a case of ‘more of the same’.
Despite losing out to Real Madrid in heart-breaking circumstances in the Champions League final, Liverpool’s second half of the season was bordering on outstanding. There have already been additions to Klopp’s squad (we’ll come to those in a minute) but Klopp will be desperate to seize on the momentum gained from their thrilling end to last season and hit the ground running. The style will remain and Klopp’s brand of ‘heavy metal’ football, where they deploy an energetic, sometimes frantic, high press, will be their go-to method. Again, they will look to use pace, energy and a collective press to harass opponents into surrendering possession in their defensive third and use the turnover to launch attacks.
When in possession they will move the ball quickly and look to utilise the lightning pace of Sadio Mane and Mo Salah. Similarly, when out of possession but in their own defensive third, they will look to counter at pace and exploit gaps left by the opponents’ advancing full-backs.
Klopp will stick fairly rigidly to a 4-3-3 system, with full-backs encouraged to push on, and his attacking players offered freedom to be creative and rotate in the final third.
The goalkeeping position has been a problem for Klopp ever since his arrival on Merseyside and was highlighted by Loris Karius’ nightmare in the Champions League final, so it was no surprise when the Reds pushed the boat out over the summer to land themselves a top-level number one.
In the end it was Alisson from Roma – number one on Klopp’s list – who was offered the chance to solve the Liverpool goalkeeping conundrum, and even though it took a world-record fee for a goalkeeper to lure him to Merseyside, the consensus is that this signing is a significant upgrade on Karius and Simon Mignolet.
But Alisson was not the first and is unlikely to be the last, in fact, his arrival took their summer spending past the £150 million mark. Early on in the summer recess, the Reds brought in Fabinho from Monaco – a defensive midfielder who can also play at full-back – and also central midfielder Naby Keita from RB Leipzig, for a reported £48 million. Their fourth signing of the summer was Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke City, for a reported £13.5 million, who provides a fascinating alternative to the speed of Salah and Mane with his power and dynamism.
The only two significant departures to date have been German international Emre Can, who allowed his contract to run down so he could join Juventus, and goalkeeper Danny Ward, who joined Leicester City for £12.5 million.
In terms of his existing squad, Klopp will be awaiting the arrival of some World Cup latecomers and so will be giving a chance to some fringe players over the pre-season friendly schedule, but one suspects that once the season is up and running he’ll be looking to return to his go-to back-four of Trent-Arnold, Lovren, van Dijk and Robertson. The defensive alternatives – Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan – suggest that there is plenty of cover and competition for places, another biggie if the Reds are serious about challenging for the title.
The midfield is one area that needed strengthening, especially after the long-term injury to Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, and it is why Klopp’s summer signings have been concentrated in this area of the pitch. Keita, Fabinho and Shaqiri will all alter the dynamic and offer something new to their midfield options, as well as upping the level of competition for places.
Jordan Henderson – fresh from a terrific World Cup – will look to dovetail with Fabinho as one of the two holding players, which will, in turn, offer a solid base from which Keita and the attacking trio of Sane, Salah and Firminho can use flexibility and rotation to stretch and tests opponents.
Still, there are expected to be more new faces and Klopp has been linked to Paulo Dybala from Juventus in addition to Bordeaux winger Malcom, Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, and Hakim Ziyech of Ajax.
Following their fine end to the season that included that thrilling Champions League run, Liverpool have been firmly installed across the board as second favourites for the Premier League title; the best available odds being +450 . And while it’s hard to see them challenging Man City for the big prize, the summer additions by Klopp have, on paper, thrust them into the role of the best of the rest.